A Few Statistics

This year started out so well when it came to site visits and views, but the rollercoaster of setbacks, disappointments, and downright leg-sweeping I’ve bumbled through really impacted heavily on my ability to write regularly. 

As a result the amount of traffic attracted by new content here fell compared to last year by some 2500 page views, but is still up a thousand or so on the year before last.

This month’s reinvigoration and resurgence of writing has done a lot to get the site back on track, and all credit has to go to my muses for their little ways – yay NRE and shared geekeries.

Here’s aiming at rebuilding the routines and energy in the coming year and finally getting round to getting the fiction back on track.

Supported and Supporting

There’s a couple of friends going through – well let’s call it a high stress situation – at the moment. Not, I hasten to add, with each other, nor are they in any way connected besides their common friendship with me; but nevertheless they are dealing with similar circumstances and worries, albeit from different directions.

All I can do is be there as a shoulder, a set of ears, and perhaps as a lightning rod as stress needs earthing – and that’s well within my capacity right now because of the support I am in turn receiving from important people in my life. The saturation through concern for them that I might otherwise experience is offset by the love and sarcasm of those who care for me.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is a huge improvement on where I’ve been recently, and the timing in that respect couldn’t be better. 

This year has brought me experiences that are making it easier to be congruent with my friends’ current situations. This isn’t in a “I know how they feel” way in any shape or form – I can’t do that, but I can recall how I’ve felt in similar situations, or what I’ve done to plod through them and out the other side. The things they are relating are therefore less worrying or scary because they are in some ways already familiar.

Best of all my experiences have taught me to shut the hell up and just be there. To listen and hear what is said and not said – and not dig for details because it’s not about me.

My friends know I’m present with them as they need, just as they have been for me in the past and will no doubt be in the future. Those closest to me are both letting me do that, and being supportive in ways they may not even entirely realise at the time.

My thoughts are with my friends, even when I can’t be there physically. When they need the latter, I’ll do my best to do that too.

Christmas part four or five

I don’t know what it is about this year’s Christmas but its proving rather extended. Between our journeys North and Back Again, we seem to be distributing presents on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and appeals to that part of me that likes putting smiles on people’s faces. It just doesn’t seem to stop right now.

Today was the turn of the Charleesi and her mother, the ex-Lady M. While handing out presents from us, friends, and family we chatted about those friends and family – and how it is now less than a year until we all go away together to Disney. The ex-Lady M continues to pretend not to be excited yet, while the Charleesi and Lady M are just… plotting…

The big gift for the Charleesi this year was one a whole bunch of us contributed to: an XBox. Being her father’s daughter she joined in our conversations while systematically unpacking the various cables and components. I watched her lay them out, strip off packaging and then quietly wire it all up and into the existing AV equipment before squeeing and clapping her hands as it powered up and started its setup process.

Its moments like that which make me so proud, and which make the extended present deliveries so worthwhile, because I get to share the excitement. And in the case of the Charleesi, as she put it, I can now co-op play Halo5 with her. So there’s a bonus 🙂

Oh, So You Want To Talk Stressful Journeys?

Just to prove that the best laid plans absolutely will fall apart even for the most organised of us, our return trip took double the expected time.

In retrospect, believing our satnav when it first said there was an hour’s delay and that it knew a short cut was our big mistake. We knew there were roadworks ahead, and news reports started coming in of multiple crashes in multiple roadworks areas along our route. The in-car satnav and Googlemaps on my phone were both metaphorically screaming and flashing big red lines over significant portions of the roadmap of the North of England.

So we did the stupid thing and began rat running parallel to various motorways down and across the country, with occasional dips back onto main routes. Lady M did the first half but then the tiredness and stress triggered her fibromyalgia, so I took over. In the BMW with which I have been struggling the last few days.

Now, in a bout of desperate anthropomorphism, the car and I seem to be coming to a wary truce; but even so the experience of driving through unlit country back roads at speed in an unfamiliar car was perhaps a little more excitement than I had anticipated.

At least nobody got more than a little startled, and there was only one roundabout I drove round more than once – but I was still very pleased to finally reach the Magic Roundabout – also known as the M25 orbital because that meant we were only 20 or 30 miles from home.

We had intended to go to #Tuesday as usual, based on our original estimate of being home around 5pm at the very latest, but the combination of getting home long after 8pm, plus no food in the house and the local fast food places so busy they weren’t delivering was too much. 

We picked up a simple pizza from the supermarket, made our apologies to the unusual suspects, watched a bit of telly and opened our Christmas presents to each other while supping some whisky.

Back to work in the morning. Who needs sleep anyway?

Christmas Travel Stress

We’re on the road again, on the second leg of our whirlwind tour of the North of England. I did the driving yesterday, but I’ve taken a back seat today, largely to give myself a rest ahead of our long run home tomorrow.

I’m still adjusting to the very different driving style required by Lady M’s car, some of which feel counter-intuitive when it comes to accelerating and braking. I’m not even counting the higher bite point for the clutch, or the extra gear which means shifts are needed at different speeds and engine feels to the old rustbucket.

As you might expect, it’s been exhausting, especially on roads I’m not familiar with, so my witty repartee and naturally sunny disposition have been somewhat muted the last 48 hours or so. The lingering remains of the headcold aren’t helping either.

So if my communications with friends and family have been lacking over this Christmas period, I can only plead a bear-like sore head. If you’ve not noticed any difference, then I’m sure I’ll get round to annoying you soon enough.

To Lady M and Mre B I can only say thank you for continuing to be marvellous. Just kick me as I need it.

Driving Lady M’s Car

In a hitherto unknown level of trust, Lady M has allowed me to drive her car as we’ve travelled North for Christmas. I know, you’d think the car I normally drive round the local area was on its last legs or something, right? 

Certainly the thought of driving six or seven hours up the M1 in a sixteen year old Ford Focus gave us both pause for thought; so after several enquiries with her company, the filling out of several extra forms, the generation of a one-time access code via the Gov.uk website so her employers could read my driving license and history, and a certain amount of finger crossing we heard last night that her employers would not send out a crack death squad if I touched her brand new BMW 2 Series SE Grand Tourer.

I think I got the bits of that name in the right order. Maybe, I don’t know, it has four wheels and more displays than the bloody space shuttle…

Lady M will be the first to tell you I have only a passing interest in cars beyond “will it move if I stamp on this pedal?”, and “it had better bloody shift if I stamp on this pedal.” She will not only tell you this, but also her shame that she is the resident petrol head in our house and that I don’t have a wish list of expensive vehicles to own (apart from the DB-9, because I’m not a total moron).

So where better to present my first vehicle review than here? Oh wait, no, I have actually written car reviews for money before as a ghost writer, but they weren’t for very good cars or very good money and I won’t tell you what they were or for who. (Disclaimer, I did have to ask Lady M what some of the model names meant)

So, what were my impressions of driving this beastie, compared to an old Ford Focus? Well, I was most vocal about how I felt I was going to break it, compared to how I have to work to get the old rustbucket to move. This is actually a good thing, believe it or not. To get the same performance out of the BMW 2 Series as I do out of the Focus, I have to treat it like it’s made of very very fragile things – so it feels like the slightest bit of brute force will snap the accelerator pedal off, or make the steering wheel melt. 

The truth of course is that if I were to treat the BMW 2 Series the same way I do the old rustbucket, I’d have made the journey up here in half the time, chased the entire way by several police constabularies, and covered in the debris of numerous vehicles through which I had driven.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the bloody indicators. There’s a reason BMW drivers famously don’t use them, and that’s because they’re crap. If you tap them you’ll get a couple of seconds flash and off, but if you hold them they’ll start flashing and never turn off again until you’ve over compensated, flashed several directions in one go, caused a three lane pile-up and got evil glares from traffic police in three counties.

BMW indicators are designed to do this. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature – like early 90s computer security or self-detonating Galaxy Note 7s. 

You may be forgiven for thinking I haven’t enjoyed driving Lady M’s car. It is a good drive, but the transition to sports brakes and suspension is rather a large leap – similar to the one I made from learning to drive in an Austin Allegro to driving in a Nissan Primera and suddenly discovering power steering. 

My initial thoughts were that it felt rather similar to driving an automatic a couple of years ago in Florida. It was less an experience of making the decision to move as managing a vehicle that wanted to move by default.

Perhaps that says more about me than it does about the vehicle, and about the level of control I expect to have. All in all, as much as I’ve found it a strange experience, I have generally enjoyed it. I may even give the car back at some point.

So, this is Christmas?

It usually takes a while for me to get into a Christmas mode; and for me, this year has felt particularly difficult to enter into any kind of festivity. There are a number of reasons for that, most of which I’ve blogged about through the year – but the general result has been a lack of the kind of organisation we’ve usually been able to muster.

The lack of that structure has left me feeling like we’re running to catch up on everything, from buying gifts, to wrapping them, and then delivering them. Then there’s the way the calendar falls. 

With Christmas falling on a weekend this year it does feel like a stealth celebration, unlike the glorious disruption of routine that accompanies a midweek calendar deadline for the season. In addition to the awfulness we’ve already had in 2016, it now feels like Christmas is a “blink and miss it” affair this year.

Or just maybe, just maybe, it’s just me. Now there’s a terrifying thought isn’t it? Because there are plenty of families who have been living and swimming in Christmas mode all month, if not longer. They wouldn’t recognise the slightly clenched teeth disconnect from it all would they? Not if their children have any say in the matter.

Perhaps it’s the prospect of the amount of travel I have ahead of me. By the time the weekend is over, I’ll have travelled up and down and across the country on a lightning tour of family. The thought of it is rather looming over me – so perhaps that’s sapping my enthusiasm – or it could just be the horrendous and lingering head and chest cold that’s bulled through our little polycule and left people groaning, coughing and sneezing all over the place.

The answer of course is “all of the above, now shut up, have a mince pie, enjoy the Christmas movie marathon, and think of all the food, drink, and company you’ve got lined up in the next week or so. Don’t forget to go to work either.”

Book Review: The Wolves of London by Mark Morris

I’m a great fan of urban fantasy that takes advantage of London’s layered past and present. I’m a Londoner, born and bred, and one of my joys is hunting down folktales and legends associated with this amazing city. Stories that go play in that landscape tick an awful lot of intellectual and emotional boxes for me.

That’s what brought me to The Wolves of London, and it’s not led me far wrong. The concept seemed fairly simple – an ex-con lured back into a life of crime coming into possession of something magical that nightmarish figures fight to steal away – but the execution is anything but that.
This is better described as a crime-horror thriller than an urban fantasy. There’s a definite sense of two worlds side by side and the horrors seem to eclipse the world of gangsters in a rising tide as the story progresses; but it’s flawed.

The book is noted as being book one of the Obsidian Heart trilogy, and it definitely suffers from it. It becomes clear that this is the type of trilogy where the story is told across the three books, rather than the three books necessarily being Acts that stand on their own.

About two thirds into this book I began to wonder how the waving threads were going to end up being resolved, and then things started expanding and the titular macguffin began to be a bit of a Deus Ex Machina. It makes for some unsettling and spectacular set pieces, but I found myself less and less gripped by the story.

It’s frustrating. There’s a lot of very vivid imagery on display, and some nicely written characters with intriguing interactions on the normal side of the fence, but the Wolves are ciphers and the story increasingly feels like a video game rather than a narrative.

I don’t know. Maybe the trilogy as a whole will work, but if it does I feel it will be despite the structure of the story, not because of it.

Three out of Five Stabby Monstrosities

And Then, Sickness

It was all going so well, if only on the blogging and creativity front. I should have realised 2016 wasn’t done with me yet. Lady M has been suffering with a string of things the last few weeks, but this weekend she passed on her frankly horrific cold to me. Thanks love.

As a result I’ve joined a great very many people in coughing, spluttering and looking like the risen dead on minimal sleep from broken nights and an inability to breathe due to coughing fits.

It’s getting better, but I had hoped to manage to get to the end if the year without any colds of note so there’s a slight grumpiness to my demeanour while I work at the moment.

Lady M has it much worse, as it’s hit her asthma and knocked her sideways. I’ve left her today tucked up in bed trying to sleep it off. As she normally tries to power through these things, it’s a mark of just how ill she is. The GP has confirmed it hasn’t turned into an infection at least and they’ve x-rayed her chest to be sure her lungs are okay, but she’s really not at all well.

And to complete my trail of devastation, it appears that my roadtrip to see Mre B on Monday has left her similarly confined to quarters and doing a good impression of a grumpily dozy dormouse.

Oh well. It could be worse. I could be one of the mice we found at one of the libraries that had been nibbling on the wiring for the security and CCTV systems. Works are under way…

Go See Rogue One

I have just watched what one friend has described to be as the perfect roleplay game session set in the Star Wars franchise. I enjoyed it almost because it wasn’t a classic Star Wars film.

What it is, is a war film, set in a familiar setting that throws out references to the rest of the films without depending on them. If you know the films, you’ll smile or nod, but if you don’t it’s just detail, or a quip.

The film is dark. It’s practically a Shakespearean tragedy – that’s all the spoiler you’ll get here – and then there’s hope.

If I’m nitpicking, there’s maybe one small section that I felt wasn’t needed, but the rest of it barrels along.

Go see it, even if you’re not a Star Wars fan. There’s some fascinating character moments and cinematography, and when one piece of familiar music wells up, it’s both foreboding and as welcome as an old friend.

Four out of Five Exploding X-Wings